The Illusion of Being Right

For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. — Mark 10:45, RSVCE

I’ve just put up a new video discussion on the illusion that we are right and that we know what it is to be great. I think it’s important we recognize our weaknesses in this area, as our ignorance is becoming costly! As Jesus reminds us, greatness is found in service. See the video here.

Peace be with you!

When Nothing Can Help…

31 And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured upon the bodies of ordinary men, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. — Exodus 30:31-32, RSVCE

It seems odd to pick such a reading from Exodus. It is filled with such wonderful (and terrifying) stories about God’s activities among the Israelite nation as they sought liberation from the oppressive Egyptians. Burning bushes, various plagues, water from stone, bread from heaven, and a mountain on fire are all examples of the dramatic and powerful imagery found in the pages of this book, yet here I am talking about God’s seemingly legalistic instructions about anointing oil.

What gives? I am glad you asked.

If you take a moment to look over Exodus 30,  you will find instructions regarding the altar and it’s holiness (verse 10), an atonement offering (verse 16), bronze washing equipment (verses 17-19), and anointing oil/incense and the holiness thereof (verses 31-32 and 37). It all seems like the kind of instruction Christians prefer not to worry about. We are, after all, supposed to worship God “in spirit and truth,” not through seemingly empty rituals and the particular implements involved (John 4:24). However, this attitude often blinds us to important things that can be learned by looking at the reasoning behind what God is asking of the people of Israel and their representatives.

If you notice, the various items from this passage are considered perpetually holy. This holiness come not from the items themselves, but from their dedication and proximity to God in the tent of meeting. Likewise, our holiness is not determined by whatever club, political party, career, or family we do or don’t belong to. It is not enhanced by our nationality, citizenship, or race.  As indicated in the text, even the priests need to be made clean! Holiness comes to us only through our proximity to and relationship with God. It comes through acknowledging our need to “wash” ourselves in the loving sacrifice of God Jesus Christ, being made humble before the One, and reflecting the love shown at the cross to the rest of His creation through our words and deeds.

We are part of a world that, as a whole, needs a lot of help to heal. We turn to our politics, our weapons, our protests, our families, and our various heroes to make the difference, but we keep finding that these only provide temporary relief, if any. For real change, we must start by allowing God’s love to make us holy. This requires humility, repentance, and the willingness to change. Once this journey begins, our worldview starts to change. When that happens, we are free to live in light of the love and victory of God, bearing kindness, compassion, and justice to the world in a way that is ultimately transforming in nature. So let’s get to it!

Peace be with you!

P.S. Remember to check out my new topical YouTube channel, located here!

Wrath and Righteousness: Never the Twain Shall Meet

Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. — James 1:19-20, RSV

I did a pretty dumb thing this weekend, but I feel it must be shared. I’m not going into too much detail, but I don’t feel it necessary because we have all made this mistake at one time or another. Really, this is an effort to take responsibility and honor God’s grace in my life by sharing an instance in which I re-learned my own need for forgiveness.

This weekend, someone I consider a friend said something rude to someone very dear to me. I had been frustrated with some on-and-off rudeness all weekend, and this was the last straw. Therefore, I did what many humans do. I took the stand, gave a taste of the same medicine, took the shots… and made everything worse. What ensued was a fight, some tears, and what should have been a joyful weekend cut short.

This morning at church, James 1 was the Epistle text, which is perfect because of the quote above. The truth is, people, evil begets evil. My anger and rudeness in response to someone else’s only made for twice the anger and rudeness previously existent in the world. I think we forget that this is how it works. A shot fired, met by a shot in response, makes for twice as many bullets out there. An angry word or action prompted by similar choices makes for twice the damage. Death for death is just more death.

For me to grow from this, I had to realize my own error, first and foremost. I had to practice what I have taught numerous times: remove the plank from your eye before going after someone else’s speck (Matthew 7:3-5). I had reason to be upset, but I should never have reflected what I was so bothered by. None of us should do this, but we do it ALL THE TIME.

Whether it’s our politics, faith, family, work, or other social issues and interactions, we tend to fight fire with fire, which just burns more stuff down. We reflect rather than combat those things we consider unacceptable, thereby actually strengthening their hold on us and our world!

So, before a new week begins, take a lesson from my mistakes and from the Scriptures: your angry actions don’t produce righteousness. Only reflecting the love of God will do that. Join me in walking in a new way, wherein we strive to minimize the negative forces of the world by refusing to imitate them, looking instead to love, grace, compassion, and truth. For if we want these things in our darkest hour, we must first be willing to give them to others in theirs.

Peace be with you.

Despising the Birthright: Esau’s Lesson

Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. — Genesis 25:34 (RSV)

Here’s one of those Scriptures you’ll never see quoted out of context on a t-shirt or refrigerator magnet. I like those. I’ve never been a fan of the practice of picking inspirational Scriptures and applying them to whatever little thing we have going on, as if Paul was really thinking about high school football when he dictated Philippians 4:13. UGH. But I digress.

Esau has been on my heart and mind a lot recently, particularly after a conversation with my priest, during which the slim odds of my success in the ordination process were made known (or at least implied). I have always recognized this as a possibility. My dismissal from my first and only pastoral position was bound to have far-reaching consequences, and it seems that my being honest about it still won’t do me any favors. While I knew in my head it was a possibility that this was something to which I may never be able to return, the reality of it didn’t hit my heart until after that conversation. I very well may have despised my birthright and lost my blessing, all for something immeasurably inferior.

Esau is the firstborn child of Isaac and Rebekah, and therefore, according to ancient near eastern custom, he is entitled to the blessing of the firstborn, endowing him with the promise made to Abraham. Further, he would be the one to inherit his father’s house. God, however, predicts that Esau will be supplanted by Jacob, and (surprise!) the Lord was right. Esau stupidly expresses willingness to trade all of that blessing and honor for a bowl of soup. Later on, his brother takes advantage and steals that blessing, leaving Esau to weep and pick up the pieces.

I think we are all, at one time or another, Esau. We all have moments in our lives in which we trade our holy calling as children of God for something unremarkable that seems worth it at the time. Sometimes, we are just too dull to see that this is what we are doing.

At this point, I know I have motivated you enough (sarcasm). In all seriousness, though, there is good news. Esau still receives a blessing, though not the primary one, which means there is hope for you and I as well. We are not Esau, at least not entirely, and so we are free to look at this story and learn from it before we stumble headlong and lose it all. What we must do is both simple and difficult. Namely, we must start allowing God to touch every aspect of our lives.

Are we sexually unhealthy and dependent? We need to invite God into that uncomfortable space. Do our politics reflect our fears and selfishness more than our faith? We need to let God into the voting booth with us. Do we blame those who suffer rather than offer them our hand? We need to start making offerings to God by giving of our abundance, and asking him for the compassion of Christ. Do we harbor feelings of guilt, shame, or resentment? We need to allow God’s forgiveness to prompt our own, whether toward ourselves or others. As in my case, do our plans seem to lead us back to the same place of despair? We need to seek the will of God for our lives and keep our eyes open for the blessing he yearns to give us.

The truth is that we are children of God (Ephesians 1:5), co-heirs of the promise in Christ Jesus. We are promised salvation, not just in the future, but here and now. Take it from us (me and Esau), and don’t let the pull of worldly (read “temporary”) success, prosperity, comfort, and desire lure you from the Kingdom of God. Bring this teaching with you into every interaction, and ask yourself whether or not what you are about to say or do will bring you closer to the footsteps of Christ.

I wish I had known to do this sooner, but then again, perhaps it was meant to be this way. Perhaps I am meant to warn and encourage you this day. I hope I have done just that.

Peace be with you!

More Ephesians: The New Creation

“…Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

— Ephesians 4:23-24, NRSV

We definitely read a lot this week! We technically went through chapter two at our last meeting, but re-visited it quite a bit with this week’s readings, referring back for common themes throughout the letter to the Ephesians. With so much to look at, let’s get started!

Check out Chapter Two.

Some of the most well-known quotes and ideas that are associated with Ephesians come from this chapter. For example, verses 8-9 (“For by grace you have been saved…”). What I would like to draw attention to, however, is Paul’s emphasis on our being “made…alive together with Christ” (verse 5). We are told that “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (verse 10). Paul’s view seems to be that we are newly created when we are resurrected in faith with Christ, and this new being that we have been given in Christ comes with a whole new lifestyle, centered on doing good things.

The idea of good works as pleasing to God is touchy. We live in a time when salvation by works and salvation by faith are separate ideas, but it is important to know that to the biblical authors, there is no distinction. If we believe in Christ, we had better be doing good things for others. If we don’t, then it is doubtful that we ever had real faith in Christ.

With all that said, what is the nature of this new creation? Indeed, in verse 15 of chapter two, Paul refers to a “new humanity,” now that Christ has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (verse 14). In the context of the letter, Paul is discussing the hostility between Jews and non-Jews, known as Gentiles. Christianity was once an all Jewish sect, but the Good News quickly spread to those outside the Jewish community, which became a factor in impending separation of the sect from its mother religion. I would say, though, that this concept applies to far more than the historical enmity between Jews and non-Jews. In Christ, if there is a single new humanity, and we are all new creations, really ANY dividing factors are done away with. Sex, gender, race, economic status, and political affiliations are all revealed to be nothing but superficial and human means of being categorized, and our true identity is that of beloved children of God through Jesus Christ.

            Read through chapter three, and you will note that Paul is now discussing the implications of our newly established family in Christ. With all of our divisions and causes for strife gone, we are all left with “access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in [Christ]” (3:12). We are encouraged to seek the presence of Christ in our “hearts through faith…being rooted and grounded in love” (3:17). This makes for a handy transition to chapter four, which covers the specifics of how this new family in Christ, grounded in love, should be relating to one another.

For example, we are asked right off the bat “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). This includes:

  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • “Bearing with one another in love” (4:2)
  • Maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3)

Note that all of these things make us subject to one another, rather than giving us an edge or advantage. Love in the Christian world is a sacrifice, acceptable to God and loving toward our neighbor. Our lives are no longer to be lived for ourselves, but for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12). This includes not just our actions, but also our words (4:29) and the management of our emotions (4:26)! There is to be no part of our lives left untouched by our new reality in Christ Jesus!

I hope that you really took/take the time to read these few chapters of Ephesians, and I would like to finish with the thought that began this article. We are encouraged to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:23-24). We are all created in the image of God, but our sin distorts that image. When we come to God through Christ, we regain that image, and must live accordingly. I encourage us all to go into our week and find the things we have kept from God, turning them over to Him in order that we may be truly renewed. It could be our politics, our words, our thoughts, the way we act around or toward certain people, or our self-care habits (lack thereof?). You know what those parts are, and it is my prayer that you know that God’s all-consuming love is enough to heal and inspire you, no matter who or where you may be. Love like this changes the world, and it is about time we got started, don’t you think?

Peace be with you!

 

***Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churhces of Christ in the United States of America.

“Have You Still No Faith?”: An Oddly Encouraging Word

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'”

–Mark 4:40-41, NRSV

This quote is the center of a particularly moving and encouraging moment I experienced today while visiting a local Episcopal Church. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am going back into ministry after some time away. While it feels like “coming home,” I have been feeling quite a bit of apprehension when I consider putting myself back into that line of work.

Over the past week, as I’ve started winding down my time at the gym where I’ve been working, I have been stressing this decision more than I’d care to admit. After all, this is the second career change I have faced in less than a year, and this particular change involves facing my own scars and regrets head on. All that said, I’ve been afraid.

This is where this text comes in.

Mark’s treatment of the disciples is anything but kind. They are the idiots who can’t seem to grasp the identity of Jesus, while almost everyone else appears to be “getting it.” For example, right away in chapter one, an unclean spirit proclaims (in a synagogue full of people), “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (1:24). Jesus later cleanses a leper, causes a paralyzed man to walk, and even stops a storm using nothing but words. Still, the best his disciples can do is ask who he is.

This depiction, I believe, is a deliberate invitation into the story. Mark seems to be asking his readers, “Here is what they did. Now, what are you going to do?” Sure enough, we all know what it is like to forget the power and love of God, focusing on the tumultuous nature of life. For example, I have been so caught up in the regrets and potential judgments that could crop up in the midst of this big life change, I lost sight of the fact that God is the One who loves and has called me. Christ lives in me, and He will find a way to accomplish His purposes through me.

We all get forget at one time or another, and the purpose of Mark’s text isn’t to make us feel badly about it, as this reaction rarely gets anything done. Instead, the Gospel is here to remind us that God is invested in us. God is invested in me, and He is definitely invested in you. All of us are called to serve in our own particular ways, and if we remember to stay open to that, amazing things will come, even in the midst of life’s hardships. Further, those hardships are put into perspective, so that we are no longer found to be tossed by the waves and still having no faith.

I hope this passage and post offer you some sense of the encouragement I felt because of the Holy Scriptures this morning. Life is difficult and full of obstacles and trials. The risks are high, and no one should deny that. However, if we remember that our identity is not defined by those trials or the negativity of the world around us, but by our membership of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), we can find peace and be productive for God’s Kingdom in even the most dire of situations.

It is my hope and prayer that you remember your value. Remember that you are God’s beloved child, and that this identity alone equips you for every good work you are to accomplish. Let’s go out into this week ready to change the end of the story. Let us remember exactly who our Savior is, and live as the people we are each called to be.

Peace be with you!

The Point We Still Miss

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

— Romans 13:10, NRSV

It’s been a rough week. The issue of immigration has flared up again in our national conversation, especially after Jeff Sessions misused Christian Scripture to justify the actions of the U.S. border patrol. This post is not going to address Sessions’ cherry-picking of Scripture. It honestly isn’t that surprising, and anyone who has read the Bible knows that it is not the literary work to quote when seeking to deport mass amounts of people (as these are the “aliens” in our midst we are repeatedly charged with caring for in passages such as Leviticus 19). Further, the Bible is not a legitimate collection of documents to use for the justification of national policy. We are not a theocracy, which is good, as those always fail.

I was going to write a whole post addressing this immigration question from a Christian standpoint, but I honestly don’t think I have the heart or energy for this one, as the advice is the same for any other consideration we have to make. If we do not take a God and person-centered approach to our conversations on immigration, gun control, the death penalty, and any other “controversial” topic that costs lives, nothing is going to get any better.

It all boils down to understanding the necessity of keeping love, compassion, and justice at the center of who we are and what we do, both individually and collectively. As you go out into this week, and as you are surrounded by a whirlwind of politically charged conversation, it is my prayer that you remember and honor God’s very simple request: Love Him, love each other, and live accordingly. Let your faith loose on your life. Call your representatives, volunteer, make amends, and give like crazy. I’ll try and do the same, and let’s see where we end up.